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Economics Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 4 June 2015)
Australian Renewable Energy Agency
Mr B Wilson
Mr D Wilson
Senator KIM CARR
- Australian Renewable Energy Agency
- INDUSTRY PORTFOLIO
Content WindowEconomics Legislation Committee - 04/06/2015 - Estimates - INDUSTRY PORTFOLIO
Senator Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Special Minister of State
Senator Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture
Department of Industry and Science
Ms Glenys Beauchamp, Secretary
Ms Sue Weston, Deputy Secretary
Mr Martin Hoffman, Deputy Secretary
Mr John Ryan, Associate Secretary
Ms Lisa Hind, General Manager
Mr Paul Sexton, General Manager
Australian Astronomical Observatory
No witnesses—all questions to be direct to Martin Hoffman, Deputy Secretary
Australian Renewable Energy Agency
Ivor Frischknecht, Chief Executive Officer
Ian Kay, Chief Finance Officer
Australian Building Codes Board
Neil Savery, General Manager
Australian SKA Office
Mr David Luchetti, General Manager
AusIndustry Business Services
Ms Chris Butler, Head of Division
Ms Jayne Facey, General Manager, Customer Services Branch
Mr Gene McGlynn, General Manager, Energy Programs Branch
Ms Lisa Peterson, General Manager, Operations Branch
Mr Mike Sibly, General Manager, Digital Policy and VANguard Branch
Mr Steve Stirling, General Manager, Service Centre and Cooperative Research Centres Branch
Mr Graham Tanton, General Manager, Business Online Services and Small Business Programs Branch
Vanessa Graham, Chief Operating Officer
Brad Medland, Chief Financial Officer
Matt Boyley, Chief Information Officer
Margaret Tregurtha, General Manager, Legal, Audit and Assurance
Economic and Analytical Services
Mark Cully, Chief Economist
Ms Margaret Sewell, Head of Energy Division, Energy Division
Ms Helen Bennett, General Manager, Energy Productivity Branch
Mr David Walker, General Manager, Appliance Energy Efficiency Branch
Mr Chris Locke, General Manager, Onshore Gas and Governance Branch
Mr Gino Grassia, General Manager, Energy Security Branch
Mr Paul Johnson, General Manager, Electricity Branch
Ms Sarea Coates, Observer
AusIndustry Entrepreneur Development
Ms Deborah Anton, Head of Division
Ms Nicola Morris, General Manager, Business Advice Branch
Ms Joanne Mulder, General Manager, Research Connections Branch
Mr David Wilson, General Manager, R&D Tax Incentive Branch
National Measurement Institute
Dr Peter Fisk, NMI Chief Executive and Chief Metrologist
Office of the Chief Scientist
Professor Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist
Portfolio Strategic Policy
Mr Wayne Calder, General Manager, Business Tax and Finance Branch
Ms Sarah Clough, General Manager, Regulation Reform and Portfolio Coordination
Mr Nathan Dal Bon, General Manager, Strategic Policy Branch
Mr Mike Lawson, Head of Division, Portfolio Strategic Policy Division
Mr Paul Trotman, General Manager, Trade and International Branch
Professor Graham Durant, Director
Kate Driver, Deputy Director, Operations
Mr Bruce Wilson, Head of Division
Ms Katherine Harman, General Manager, Coal and Minerals Productivity Branch
Mr Michael Sheldrick, General Manager, Uranium and R and E International Branch
Mr Demus King, General Manager, Offshore Resources Branch
Scien ce and Commercialisation Policy
Ms Jane Urquhart, Acting Head of Division
Mr Alexander Cooke, Acting General Manager
Ms Ann Bray, General Manager
Sectoral Growth Policy
Ms Anne Byrne, General Manager, Manufacturing and Services Policy Branch
Mr Peter Chesworth, Head of Division, Sectorial Growth Policy Division
Mr David Lawrence, Acting General Manager, Food, Chemicals and Fibres Branch
Mr Anthony Murfett, General Manager, Growth Centres Branch
Mr Neil Savery, General Manager, Australian Building Codes Board
Mr Gary Richards, General Manager, Advanced Technologies Branch
Australian Institute of Marine Science
Mr John Gunn, Chief Executive Officer (available by telephone only)
Mr David Mead, General Manager
Mr David Souter, Research Manager
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Dr Adi Paterson, Chief Executive Officer
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Dr Larry Marshall
Ms Hazel Bennett
Mr Craig Roy
Dr Jack Steele
Professor Damien Barrett
Dr Dave Williams, Executive Director, National Facilities and Collections
Dr Chris Pigram, Chief Executive Officer
Dr James Johnson, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Chief of Division
Dr Andy Barnicoat, Chief of Division
Dr Stuart Minchin, Chief of Division
Mr Darren Hooper, Chief Finance Officer
Dr Clinton Foster, Chief Scientist
Ms Patricia Kelly, Director General
Ms Fatima Beattie, Deputy Director General
Ms Terry Moore, Acting General Manager of the Policy and Governance Group
Mr Doug Pereira, Chief Financial Officer and General Manager of the Finance, Quality, Reporting and Property Group
Dr Benjamin Mitra-Kahn, Chief Economist, Office of Chief Economist, Policy and Governance Group
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority
Mr Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer
Mr Cameron Grebe, Head of Division, Environment
Committee met at 09:00
CHAIR ( Senator Edwards ): Good morning. I welcome everyone of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee dealing with budget estimates for 2015-16. The committee will continue examination of the industry and science portfolio commencing with questions subprograms 2.4 and 2.5 covering resources and energy in the Department of Industry and Science and then will follow the order set out in the circulated program.
The committee is due to report to the Senate on 23 June 2015. The committee has set Friday, 12 June 2015 as the date by which senators are to submit written questions on notice and has set Friday, 17 July 2015 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session; this includes answers to questions on notice.
Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has a copy of the rules. In particular, I draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate, dated 13 May 2009, specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised and which I now incorporate in Hansard.
The extract read as follows—
Public interest immunity claims
That the Senate—
(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;
(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;
(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:
(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and
(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.
(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.
(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.
(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.
(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).
(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).
(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)
Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.
I remind senators and witnesses that microphones remain live, unless I instruct otherwise—for example, at suspension or adjournment. I would also ask photographers and cameramen to follow the established media guidelines and the instructions of the committee secretariat. Please ensure that senators' and witnesses' laptops and personal papers are not filmed.
I welcome back the Minister for Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, and Special Minister of State representing the Minister for Industry and Science, Senator, the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, and Secretary, Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM and officers.
Minister, Secretary and officers, is there anything that you would like to say as an opening statement.
Senator Ronaldson: Not from my end, Chair.
Ms Beauchamp : No thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: We will get straight into the program. Something dear to my heart is the current program with the radioactive waste repository program. Obviously there is a lot of interest around the nation in this program. I think all sides of this parliament, no matter what coloured flag they fly, have come to the realisation that Australia must responsibility for its own low-level waste, coming back under treaty provisions or agreements from France and other places, the medical waste. I am wondering, Secretary, or officers perhaps, or Mr Wilson, where the process is at? I am sure that the people listening to this will be interested to know where Australia currently is in this cycle.
Mr B Wilson : The process has, as you know, been open for a public voluntary nomination for a site for a low-level waste facility and for an intermediate-level storage facility. The voluntary nomination process closed on 5 May. We are currently evaluating the nominations received. That is a process that will take approximately two months, and then we will be providing advice to the minister for consideration of the sites that he wishes to then proceed with through a short-listing process for further evaluation.
CHAIR: How much of the process from here can you put on the public record? I am fascinated. I am obviously very interested to know where your nominations have come from. But I am also conscious that it is a commercial tender and that people are vying for the opportunity to participate in this program.
Mr Sheldrick : At this stage, as Mr Wilson said, we are right in the middle of an assessment process for the nominations that have been received to date. At this stage, we are not disclosing the nomination information on the basis that we are still in the middle of conducting an assessment. The guidelines and the framework for that assessment were made public through a note that was put on our website prior to the closure of the nomination period. So there is a very clear understanding out there of the framework that we use. But, at the moment, we are right in the middle of that, and therefore we are not—
CHAIR: But there was public advertising of this. I saw it in local papers pretty much all around Australia.
Mr Sheldrick : There was public advertising. It was important that when the government decided to go to a nationwide voluntary process that that was known nationally. We conducted a series of advertisements through a range of different newspapers and magazines and other different approaches to try to get that information as widely known around Australia as possible. That advertising process has finished now. Now we are just into an assessment process. Beyond this, once we identify criteria through the multicriteria assessment process that we have adopted, advice will be put to the minister.
Then the process beyond that is that, once the decision is announced as to which sites the minister wishes to consider, the act requires that there be a 60-day consultation period for whatever those sites are, during which time we would engage with the communities to ensure that they have accurate, relevant information. At the end of that 60 days, the minister can make a decision on which sites to take forward. Our plan is, at this stage, to spend a period of time on a short list of sites to do some further site characterisation work and have some ongoing community engagement, with the objective of having a preferred site identified by about the middle of 2016.
CHAIR: Has this process delivered you greater results in terms of numbers of applications or of registrations of interest than previous programs?
Mr Sheldrick : Yes. The minister has indicated that there has been an encouraging response to that call for nominations.
CHAIR: Has it been the length and breadth of the country that the interest has come from?
Senator Ronaldson: We may need to be a little circumspect here.
CHAIR: No worries. So there is a two-month evaluation process. Then what is the time frame?
Mr Sheldrick : There is a two-month evaluation process undertaken by the department, with input from the independent advisory panel. As I said, that criteria framework has been advertised. We will be using that as part of our assessment process. Then, as I indicated, there will be a decision taken by the minister to identify some sites. The act requires a 60-day consultation process on that decision. Then, once the short-list sites have been agreed, if we have a short list, there will be ongoing work through site characterisation, aiming for a preferred site by the middle of 2016.
Beyond that time period, there is still a requirement for any site that is taken forward to be put through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act approval process. There is also a requirement to go through the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act regulatory approval process.
CHAIR: And those all have very stringent requirements.
Senator Ronaldson: Radioactivewaste.gov.au has some very interesting information on this.
CHAIR: There is a lot of good information about this whole process out there. I encourage people to even go to my website, Senator Ronaldson, where they will find a lot of information about recycling of fuel rods and the reuse of spent nuclear fuel.
Senator KETTER: Ms Beauchamp, I am interested in obtaining a high-level staffing profile attached to programs 2.4 and 2.5. I am interested in a comparison between the current staff profile and what applied in the old Department of Energy, Resources and Tourism. Are you able to—
Ms Beauchamp : I can certainly give you an update—and I will ask the relevant people to come to the table—on the staffing profile for the resources and energy area. Comparing what we are doing now with what might have happened in a previous portfolio is probably not a fair comparison. Firstly, we have a very different and new policy agenda for this government. The other issue is that we share quite a few functions across the department—for example, setting up task forces which may not necessarily relate to the resources and energy area. We set up quite separately the task force on the energy white paper and drew people from within the department but also from other agencies. As we have just heard, we have quite a bit of work to do around radioactive waste and implementation of the energy white paper. I can go through the staffing profile of the resources and energy area, but I just want to reiterate that it is probably not fair to compare it to what was done previously.
Mr Ryan : For example, one of the areas of the department—the economic analysis division—does a lot of work in the resources and energy area, but it would be hard to split precisely what the resources are in that period that they actually work on resources and energy. But we can certainly cover the two key divisions.
Senator KETTER: Are you able to do that now or are you saying you will take it on notice?
Mr Ryan : We can do it now.
Ms Weston : I can give you the figures towards the end of May for the resources and energy divisions. As to what they were prior to the merger of the two departments in the machinery-of-government change, we will have to take that on notice. I note, though, in giving you these numbers that we have made some structural changes in the department in that the corporate network, for instance, is managed centrally. So resources that may have sat in those divisions when they were in a separate department are now centrally located. That will have an impact and so we will be comparing apples with oranges.
Senator Ronaldson: That was going to be my line!
Ms Weston : Sorry about that, Senator! To give you the detail there, the energy division as at 20 May has 163.99 full-time equivalent staff. I am going to give you the figures for the National Offshore Patrol Titles Administrator division separately to the resources division, but those two are related to each other. NOPTA at 20 May is at 34.14 FTEs and the resources division itself is at 93.4 FTEs.
Ms Beauchamp : I would also add, just to confirm, that we have other parts of the portfolio working on the resources and energy area. For example, under the Office of the Chief Economist we have a resources and energy economics branch. With two of the growth centres we have resources and energy expertise as well. They are not actually located in those divisions, but they are located in other parts of the portfolio.
Senator KETTER: Was that the case prior to 20 May? Or has it happened only since 20 May?
Ms Beauchamp : Yes, since the formation of the new department. And I should say that since 2011 the portfolio has gone through up to 16 iterations. We have put together a portfolio and a department that is certainly centred around government policy. We make sure we have a flexible arrangement in terms of the allocation of resources. Just looking at the resources of those two divisions is obviously not a fair comparison, as I said earlier. We have other parts of the portfolio working on resources and energy functions.
Senator KETTER: You have taken the question about the old department on notice.
Ms Weston : We will try to do those pulling-apart bits, but that might be—
Ms Beauchamp : I will just say that I do not think that is possible to do, given the change in policy priorities. But also things like corporate functions are combining back office functions and the like, so I do not think it is a fair comparison at all in terms of getting that information together, and obviously it would take a very long time to unpick. So, I would be reluctant to do that comparison.
Senator KETTER: Then perhaps just a comparison with the full-time equivalent numbers—
Ms Beauchamp : Let us have a look and see what we can do.
Senator Ronaldson: Let us see what makes sense. I will just repeat Ms Weston's very sage words about apples and oranges. We will get what we can to you that actually makes sense on the back of the matters raised by the secretary.
Senator KETTER: How do these two programs—2.4 and 2.5—participate in the Department of Industry and Science graduate program?
Ms Beauchamp : They are part of our graduate program, and I am happy to go through the details of the graduate program in the cross-portfolio elements. We have on average about 40 graduates come into the department in the portfolio, and we rotate them through a number of the program areas.
Senator KETTER: So, in 2015 it would be about 40?
Ms Beauchamp : Yes—sorry: up to 40.
Senator KETTER: Would you be able to give me a more precise figure?
Ms Weston : We will get that for you shortly.
Senator KETTER: And I am also looking at 2014 and 2016.
Ms Weston : 2016 would not have been sorted yet.
Ms Beauchamp : I will say that the graduate program is very important to us, and we try to put in as many resources as we possibly can to get the best and brightest to rotate through all of our programs. On average it is up to about 40, and that would not change over the forward estimates.
Senator KETTER: But you have taken the figures on notice.
Ms Beauchamp : Yes.
Senator KETTER: Thank you. I would like to just have a look at the exploration development incentive, which was introduced in the last budget. I note that in relation to the answer to question on notice S-156 from the 2014 supplementary budget estimates, mineral exploration expenditure fell 9.6 per cent to $438.8 million in the June quarter 2014. Can you provide us with an update on that figure?
Mr B Wilson : That information comes from the Bureau of Statistics. I think I have it here in my folder, but it might take me just a few minutes to find it.
Senator KETTER: Perhaps we can come back to that. Are you able to give us an indication of what impact the exploration development incentive has had?
Mr Sheldrick : It is too early to be able to provide any indication of the actual impact of the introduction of the exploration development incentive. The incentive is open for this financial year, but companies have until September of this year to lodge their relevant paperwork for it, so we will not have any indication until after that time.
Senator KETTER: So, you have no indication at this stage as to the amount of exploration credits?
Mr Sheldrick : No.
Mr B Wilson : I would note that the way the scheme works, which is that the exploration credit is determined through a moderated process at the end of the year, we will not actually know what the call on the program is until after this financial year. And that really is for the Australian Taxation Office to determine; it will not be the department that does that.
Senator KETTER: Is the department aware of any applications for the exploration development incentive?
Mr B Wilson : No, we are not aware of any applications. We certainly expect that there will be. I know that the onshore minerals industry is a very big supporter of the EDI, and the companies will be taking advantage of it. But at this point, no, we are not aware of it. But, again, we would not be the department that would necessarily be aware of it. That would be a tax office application.
Senator KETTER: What role does the department have in supporting Treasury to implement this initiative?
Mr B Wilson : We assisted Treasury in the design of the scheme and interfacing with industry and other stakeholders in that design. We are also assisting Treasury in developing the indicators for the review of the scheme; that will occur in 2016. We do not actually implement the scheme, however. That is implemented by Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office.
Senator Ronaldson: Any application would go to Treasury, not to our department. I do note just very briefly that the CEO of the Association of Minerals Exploration Companies, AMEC, Simon Bennison, said:
The EDI will go a long way towards addressing low new discovery rates, an ongoing reduction in Australian greenfield exploration activities and a low number of Initial Public Offerings for mineral projects in Australia.
So, clearly the industry itself is aware of the benefits of the program, and one would expect that the applications would flow from that, if it has the imprimatur of the peak body.
Senator KETTER: But it is a bit surprising that $25 million has been allocated to this and we do not seem to have an impression or any advice that it is actually working.
Senator Ronaldson: The questions are best directed to Treasury, who have the primary role in this. But we will take it on notice and if we have something further to add then we can do so.
Senator KETTER: Are you able to inform me as to what happens to any unspent funds from the $25 million? Does it roll over to the next financial year?
Senator Ronaldson: Again, they are questions for Treasury.
Senator KETTER: And my final question in this series: Minister, if the program is showing no signs of improvement in exploration expenditure, will the government reassess the program?
Senator Ronaldson: We have had some significant hypotheticals in the past 24 hours, but that is now in the top five, I am afraid. I can only repeat to you the words of Mr Bennison, that the EDI will go a long way towards addressing low new discovery rates, and I gave you the quote before. These are questions that are best for Treasury. The government has put this money in to enable greenfield exploration. It is highly supported by the industry, and our expectation is that industry will respond, and I suspect that by the time we get to October when you ask Treasury some of these questions in estimates they will have a full update on where it is at.
Senator KETTER: My next series of questions relates to radioactive waste storage. How much funding has been allocated to finding a site for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility?
Mr Sheldrick : There was a budget allocation in 2014 for the overall project, and that allocation was $22.6 million over three years. That was for the overall project, though. There are various elements of the project, including site identification and selection. There is also the development of the safety case, the business case, the engineering, the detailed business case work and lots of other aspects.
Senator KETTER: Could you take on notice the site allocation selection component of that?
CHAIR: I take it that there is a top line, which is the figure you have given, and there are all those line items broken up with various figures.
Mr Sheldrick : Yes. We would need to take that on notice.
Senator KETTER: I understand that ANSTO has been provided with funding to deal with nuclear waste as a temporary measure until the national site can be established. Does the government have a target date for when a site will be operational?
Mr Sheldrick : Our program at the moment, as I indicated earlier, is the site selection process, with some detailed site assessment that would be required onsite, and then the development again of a business case and the various regulatory approval processes that need to be gone through. The target date is the early 2020s for operation, but there are a lot of processes and regulatory processes—public consultation and so on—that need to be gone through between now and then. That is an indicated date. That is what we are aiming for at the moment.
Senator Ronaldson: Chair, we did fully canvass this, and in response to your question, I just wonder whether Senator Ketter might have issues that were not responded to by the department.
Senator KETTER: Just coming back to the figure that Mr Sheldrick gave, the $22.6 million, does that include moneys set aside for the creation of a facility? Or is this something that would need to be addressed in—
Mr Sheldrick : No, that is not for capital works. That is to develop the detailed business case. There is a decision point at that point.
Senator KETTER: So, this would be a future budget measure for government?
Mr Sheldrick : Yes.
Senator KETTER: Does the department have an approximate cost for what such a facility would cost?
Mr Sheldrick : Not at this stage. The work still needs to be done in the context of that detailed business case to be able to develop a cost that can be taken to government.
Senator Ronaldson: To clarify, for the sake of completeness for Senator Ketter in relation to the EDI: it is a tax offset as opposed to a government grant program. So in some respects Treasury might not have that information until well after the end of the financial year for the tax offset. I do not know whether it had been properly explained or whether I have explained it properly. It is a tax offset, not a program in the normally accepted sense of the word.
Senator KETTER: When will the site assessment process conclude?
Mr Sheldrick : The site assessment process is multifaceted. There is the initial site assessment, which we are doing now on the nominations that were received. We have allowed two months to conduct that assessment, at which time the government will need to make a decision on which sites to progress with. Then there will be another period of site assessment where some more detailed work will be conducted on which site to take forward at that point—that sort of middle of 2016 time when a preferred site will be identified. Even at that time, though, work is required on the site around the approval process under the EPBC Act and ARPANSA to get to the actual site selection, which is, under the act, where the site is selected and that is a site on which constructions can occur. That time period is more than the next two months; it is over the next two or three years, possibly.
Senator KETTER: Who is the final decision maker on selecting the site? Is it the minister? Would it require cabinet approval under the act?
Senator Ronaldson: That process is a long way off. It is not a matter for the officer to answer; it is for me. I assume it would be cabinet but I do not know that.
Senator KETTER: Could you take that—
Senator Ronaldson: I will take that on notice. Again, I ask anyone who is listening to go to radioactivewaste.gov.au. It is very comprehensive. It is constantly updated, from my understanding. It is a very significant resource. I encourage those who are listening or will be reading this, of whom I am sure there will be tens of thousands, to go to the website.
Senator KETTER: Do you envisage that the ongoing management of the facility would be done by government, or would it be done by a private company?
Mr Ryan : I think we are getting quite speculative.
Ms Beauchamp : Yes, that is speculation.
CHAIR: I understand where the process is and I appreciate your question but we are well beyond—
Mr B Wilson : It is a decision that would be taken in the course of evaluating the business case.
Senator KETTER: So that decision has not been made as yet?
Mr B Wilson : No.
Senator KETTER: Could you talk about the role of the independent advisory panel. First, when were members appointed to this panel and through what process?
Mr B Wilson : I will provide an initial answer but Mr Sheldrick can provide more detail. As to the exact dates of the appointment of the panel, I do not have them with me but I could take that on notice. The membership of the panel was selected by the department based on the skills and experience of individuals. The panel is an advisory panel for the process; it is not a decision-making group as such. It is not meant to be either a representative or a stakeholder consultation process. These are individuals who have been selected on the basis of their knowledge and experience. There are two sub-groups in that advisory panel. One is a technical sub-group chaired by Dr David Klingberg. I can read out all the names or I could provide them on notice.
Senator KETTER: On notice will be fine, thank you.
Mr B Wilson : We also have a socioeconomic subgroup chaired by Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Ashworth. That provides, as its title indicates, more of a socio and economic advisory role into the process, given the importance of those aspects in any site development and site identification process.
Senator KETTER: How many times has the panel met?
Mr B Wilson : It has met twice previously and it is meeting a third time today and tomorrow.
Senator KETTER: Do members of the panel receive sitting fees?
Mr B Wilson : Yes, they do and it is in line with Remuneration Tribunal rates.
Senator KETTER: I turn to the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative. Can the department give us an update on how that is going and what the results are?
Mr B Wilson : Certainly. If there is a specific aspect of the NLECI program, as we refer to it, that you are interested in, I can more target the answer. Otherwise I and Ms Harman can provide a general response on the nature of the department.
Senator KETTER: Let us start with the general response. I am interested in the fact that there was reduced funding in the 2014-15 budget and there was a further funding adjustment in this year's budget. I am interested in how the initiative is going and what impact those changes in funding have had.
Mr B Wilson : As you would be aware, the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative, or NLECI, was announced in the 2008-09 budget. It had $243.9 million allocated to it. We have expended, until May 2015, $203.7 million, with $40.2 million remaining committed to the program until 2016-17. These figures include the decision in the May budget this year to reduce funding to NLECI by $3.4 million. The NLECI administered funding appropriations are fully committed. There are eight active projects. You have asked about the $3.4 million funding reduction that was taken from the money allocated to the ANLEC R&D fund. Since 2007, about $50.8 million had been allocated to that fund, with a remaining allocation to take it up to $75 million. That funding is a matched industry fund from the coal industry. To date, the coal industry, for its reasons, had not matched that funding, and the outstanding funding that we had allocated to it was to be matched by industry in the future. Industry has committed to matching that funding. In the budget prioritisation process, we examined the funding to ANLEC R&D and the government decided that a reduction of $3.4 million would not compromise the outcomes that were being sought from the ANLEC R&D fund. That has been confirmed through discussions with the head of the ANLEC R&D fund.
Senator KETTER: I think I need to unpack some of those figures a little bit. This year's budget removes the $3.4 million, and there is mention there that there is $17.5 million remaining over two years.
Mr B Wilson : Is it two years or one year?
Senator KETTER: That is what I understand it says.
Ms Harman : Yes, that is right.
Senator KETTER: Over two years from 2015-16?
Ms Harman : That is correct.
Senator Ronaldson: There is $14.2 million, I think, remaining committed to the program until 2016-17.
Senator KETTER: If there are four years remaining in the 2014-15 budget papers, why are there only two years in the 2015-16?
Mr B Wilson : Can I just confirm that you are referring to the ANLEC R&D allocation—the overall NLECI.
Senator KETTER: That is what I understand, yes. If you look at the 2014-15 papers, it talks about funding of $96.6 million over four years, but when you look at this year's papers it talks about $17.5 million over two years from 2015-16.
Mr B Wilson : I think the answer might lie in the fact that there are eight projects under the NLECI funding item, one of which is the ANLEC R&D, and a number of those projects do run over the next four years. But I think the funding profile for NLECI—
Ms Harman : All of the NLECI commitments of funds end as of June 2017. There are a number of projects which will be ending in this financial year. Indeed, I think there are only three remaining projects over the period of 2015-16 and 2016-17. At this point, ANLEC R&D is to receive $24,182,000 in the financial year 2014-15.
Ms Beauchamp : I will just get our chief financial officer to confirm the figures that are in budget papers, because I am not sure what pages you are quoting from.
Mr Medland : Just looking at the portfolio budget statements for 2014-15, if you look on page 56, towards the top, there is a line that talks about the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative. If I look at that number and compare it to the 2015-16 portfolio budget statements, it reflects that the program still has funding in 2016-17 of exactly the same amount. Last year it looked like it was going to run for three additional years, and it seems to line up with the current portfolio budget statements as well.
Senator KETTER: I guess I am just comparing the fact that last year's budget talked about a four-year period and this year's budget talks about a two-year further period.
Mr Medland : Where is that reference to the four-year period in the budget papers?
Senator KETTER: The 2014-15 budget papers. I do not have the page number, unfortunately. I will just read what it says:
The Government will achieve savings of $16.8 million over two years from 2013-14 from the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative. Funding of $96.6 million over four years will remain available to support the development and deployment of technologies that aim to reduce emissions from coal use.
That is last year's budget.
Mr Medland : Certainly the portfolio budget statements, the department's budget documents, seem to indicate a three-year period and a two-year period. We can certainly look at the budget papers.
Senator KETTER: Is there an inconsistency there?
Mr Medland : I do not think so. Another year has passed and instead of being three years it is two years. Certainly in our portfolio budget statement everything seems to line up with the two-year and the three-year periods rather than the four-year period.
Senator Ronaldson: There was a reduction in the 2013-14 budget.
Senator KETTER: I do not have that. I am looking at the 2014-15 budget.
Senator Ronaldson: I thought you said there was a reduction in the 2013-15 budget. It was 2014-15, was it?
Senator KETTER: 2014-15, that is what the papers said. It is just a discrepancy in the number of years. That is what I am trying to get to.
Ms Beauchamp : I think we will take it on notice to clarify but there certainly would not be a discrepancy in the budget papers. It may be that a year has dropped off in terms of actuals and there are the remaining two years. If you look at budget paper No.2 for this year, it is very clear in terms of the savings that have been taken and also the $17.5 million over two years that remain in that fund. We will take that on notice and clarify if you can provide to us the references as well that you are referring to.
Senator KETTER: Okay. As I said I was just referring to the budget papers.
Mr B Wilson : It may also reflect the fact that the ANLEC program runs until 2019 but the funding finishes in 2017. The reference could have been to be overall ANLEC program. Certainly as others have indicated, there has been no change to the funding time frames.
Senator Ronaldson: Just so we are clear, what do we need from Senator Ketter before we can properly answer this?
Ms Beauchamp : I would just like the references you are referring to and then there will clarify exactly the funding.
Senator Ronaldson: You do that Senator Ketter and we will get—
Senator KETTER: Yes, I can do that. I can give you the document I have here. Finally, there are probably some mathematics to look at. The amount spent in 2014-15—I think, Minister, you made reference to a figure that approximates that. Can you confirm how much has been spent in 2014-15? It would appear to be the $96.6 million figure, minus the 3.4 million and the 17.5. That comes to something like 75.7.
Ms Beauchamp : The actuals will be consolidated once we finish this financial year. So it is probably a bit early to tell exactly the actuals for 2014-15. Certainly in our financial statements it will be very clear in terms of what has been spent in 2014-15.
Senator Ronaldson: It is probably in estimates too early, I suspect.
Senator KETTER: Right. I move on to east coast gas. I am looking to get an update on the market issues there and I am interested in any progress made since the February estimates.
Mr Locke : As I think I outlined in my evidence at the last estimates, there has been significant activity started in relation to gas market reform and to improving the way that gas is traded and some of the market provisions around that over the last few months. Key events are in December last year the COAG Energy Council ministers agreed to a significant Australian gas market vision and gas market development plan. The gas market development plan included as a key action the commencement of a review of east coast markets by the Australian Energy Market Commission, some reviews of the way the Wallumbilla hub works, an investigation of the trading platform at Moomba and the development of the gas supply strategy.
In terms of progress on those activities the Australian Energy Market Commission's East Coast wholesale gas market and pipeline frameworks review is now well underway. They have released the draft of their stage 1 report, which has been out for stakeholder comment, and they will be looking to provide a stage 1 report to the COAG Energy Council in July. That includes options for short-term improvements in the East Coast market, including improving including improvements to gas price reporting, changes to the way the national gas market bulletin board works, and assessing options to improve information gaps and the way that the wholesale trading market works. That is a significant and ongoing piece of work by the Australian Energy Market Commission.
The Australian Energy Market Operator, as I touched on last time, has been doing a detailed review of the design of the Wallumbilla gas supply hub in Queensland, and that will be presented to the July energy council meeting options for improving the way that that wholesale market works, including ways to trade capacity between the different points in that market to improve the price signalling.
The Commonwealth, in conjunction with the states and territories, has agreed to a range of activities around what they call 'the gas markets vision'. One of those is to work on ways to improve supply response in gas markets, and that work is ongoing. In the Commonwealth, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has commenced our 12-month inquiry into the competitiveness of wholesale gas prices in eastern and southern Australia. I note their issues paper was released a little after nine o'clock this morning. That work, again, as well underway. We also released, on 14 April following the energy white paper release, the domestic gas strategy which outlines the government's position on approaches to unconventional gas development. There are a range of activities underway.
Senator KETTER: Thank you for that. I was going to turn specifically to comments that the minister made of the APPEA conference that market reforms planned for the gas sector would help address potential shortages. Can you talk through what those changes are?
Mr Locke : The market reforms relate to that outline I was just giving. They are stepped out in some detail in the COAG Energy Council's communique in December with its gas market vision. Key things that will be looked at, particularly in the context of the AEC's, Australian Energy Commission's, review are: improving information flows to market so that market participants can make better decisions. That involves things like improving the function of transparency mechanisms like the National Gas Market Bulletin Board; looking at ways to improve trading of pipeline capacity. We already have some work underway to improve the way that contracted but unutilised capacity in pipelines might be traded between market participants to allow greater flows across the market; and also looking at the various designs of the trading markets we have on the East Coast. We have a number of different gas trading markets designs in East Coast markets, and neither of them truly reflect the underlying wholesale price of gas, which is traded not very transparently under long-term bilateral contracts. The commission is looking at ways to improve the integration of those markets to get a better price signal. Key issues are transparency and price discovery.
Senator KETTER: What is in relation to the national gas rules?
Mr Locke : Some of those will impact the national gas law, and then a range of those will be in the national gas rules. Things like pipeline capacity trading is primarily a rules issue, but in terms of redesigning markets that could take changes to national gas laws.
Mr Ryan : The government's policy on energy markets was outlined in the energy white paper where we basically have three big themes which are: we want to increase competition in the energy markets; we want to increase investment in the energy markets; and we want to have greater productivity. A lot of these detailed studies that we are talking about in the gas sector are fundamentally trying to address those question so that we increase the amount of investment that goes into gas, increase the amount of supply that we get in the gas markets, and fundamentally try to achieve the objectives that we set for electricity and for gas markets, which is for a better deal for consumers.
Senator KETTER: In going back to the national gas rules, is likely that there will be a need to amend those, and, if so, when will those changes occur?
Mr Locke : It is very possible, and I would say it is likely, that there will be need for changes to national gas rules. The way the changes are usually made to national gas rules is that it is a delegated function to the Australian Energy Market Commission. A rule-change proposal is submitted really by any party, but it could be the Energy Cancer into the Australian Energy Market Commission. It goes through a review process and those rules are made. It does not require action by energy ministers or by a particular government, except that often the rule changes are initiated by ministers.
Senator KETTER: Do you have a time frame for that?
Mr Locke : The time frame would be soon after the reviews are completed, so it depends on which aspects of those we are talking about. We already have some rule changes underway, particularly in relation to capacity trading. They would take, typically, about 12 months to progress, but it depends on the complexity of the work that is being envisaged.
Senator KETTER: I understand you are undertaking an offshore petroleum resources management review. Can you provide us with an update of where that review is up to and when the final report will be released?
Mr B Wilson : The resource management framework review is currently close to the point where we have gone out for public consultation. We released an issues paper in, I believe, December. We have received some submissions on that process. We have now been developing up a proposed draft report which we anticipate being released sometime in the next month for another round of public comment, and following that we will finalise a draft report for the minister to consider, and that will be released shortly after that. There is no exact time frame set down for that, but I would expect a final report to be hopefully in the public arena around August.
Senator KETTER: I understood that the department's website indicated that the interim report was due for release in March?
Mr B Wilson : Yes. That has slipped. We are currently in the process of finalising the interim report. We have been working with key stakeholders and our internal processes to do that. We are not far from that.
Senator KETTER: Can you explain why the slippage has occurred?
Mr B Wilson : We had some turnover in this staff working in the team through retirement and some other movements in and out. We also realised that perhaps some of the issues we were looking at were maybe a little more complex than we originally thought. This is a process where we wanted to get it right rather than push a time frame.
Senator KETTER: What specific proposed reforms will the review be canvassing?
Mr B Wilson : At this point I am not able to discuss it. We are still developing up that to put a proposal to the minister.
Senator KETTER: I have a number of other questions but I will put them on notice.
CHAIR: That is a matter for government. I thank you for that, Senator Ketter.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: My questions are about the Tasmanian Major Projects Approval Agency, the TMPAA. Who should I direct that to?
Ms Beauchamp : Chair, could I just say that that is not part of the resources and energy area, but we are happy to take it, or are you able to wait until we get those program people?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: We were advised that this was the correct time to ask the questions.
CHAIR: Where would you suggest, Madam Secretary?
Ms Beauchamp : They are under program 2—in 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3. I will see if the relevant officers are here. Yes, they are.
CHAIR: They are here. If you are here and you don't mind, let's accommodate Senator Whish-Wilson.
Senator Ronaldson: We are very happy to accommodate our movement between programs, because we have spent a lot of time on 2.5. That is fine, just as long as the committee will give the department some time to get the right people and there will be no reflections on any delays.
CHAIR: No, there will not be any reflections, because these are the questions, they only need to be asked once and then everybody can go home.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you, Chair. In relation to questions I asked at the last estimates on the TMPAA, the answer provided was that the Major Projects Approval Agency is working actively with three prospective tourism projects. I just wanted to check: is this still the case?
Mr Chesworth : There are a number of projects that the TMPAA is engaged with. As at 22 May, there were 49. I would have to go and check to see the number of those that are tourism projects, but certainly it is fair to say that there has been a steady stream of proposals coming through. So it could change at a particular point in time, but I could get you some quick information on that.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: It has jumped from three to 49 in the period since the last estimates?
Mr Chesworth : No. That is for all projects, not just tourism projects. You just mentioned—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: My understanding was that was the only thing they were working on last time we discussed this.
Mr Chesworth : I would have to go and check. I am quite sure that, if it was a recent question on notice, there were certainly more than three in the past three to four months.
Senator Ronaldson: When was the question on notice, just out of interest?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: It was asked at the last estimates.
Senator Ronaldson: At estimates. We can get an update for you.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am happy for you to clarify that. It could be my misinterpretation, so do not take it—
Mr Chesworth : We will get a clarification on that.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes. Can you give me a rough breakdown of what industries those projects would be related to, then?
Mr Chesworth : There are a range. You have mentioned tourism. There are some things around infrastructure, but really the whole focus of it is for the agency to work with the state government on helping proponents to find a way through the regulatory barriers that they may face at all levels of government. That can be anything from Commonwealth regulation through to local government planning approvals. It is across a range of activities and sectors.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would be very interested to know what they were. There are obviously a significant number of projects you are talking about here—49. Can I check that the cut-off for participation in the TMPAA is $50 million?
Mr Chesworth : That is correct.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So we are looking at 49 projects greater than $50 million that you are working on.
Mr Chesworth : I will go and check on that. We do not necessarily want to turn project proposals away if they come knocking and speaking with the people down there. There are the formal processes that they go through. There is a three-stage process in working with proponents, but I suspect that there are plenty of other issues that come knocking at the door, if you like, where the office down there is working with them. The $50 million threshold remains, but I do not think necessarily that the work of the office is exclusively on those projects.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So that would be separate, but there would still be 49 projects that you are working on.
Mr Chesworth : That is right.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask whether one of them involves a third undersea cable, a digital cable network connecting Tasmania?
Mr Chesworth : I will find that out for you.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: There has been recent discussion about a submarine cable company connecting Tasmania for around $20 million, but they need to find stakeholders to finance and fund that project. It would be quite significant. I would be interested to know if your major projects agency was actually working on that?
Mr Chesworth : I will find that out for you. That information on the projects we currently have—I actually have a list here with the ones that I am able to talk about and the ones that I am unable to talk about. We should be able to get you this information fairly quickly. I will also find out about the submarine cable issue and whether there is any work going on there and whether we can disclose it.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you be able to do that today? If I came back later—
Mr Chesworth : Certainly. I am looking at the camera, and there will be people working on it right now.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Great. Before I finish up and hand over to my colleagues, the agency has an advisory board and you have regular meetings with the Tasmanian Economic Council—so the Chair sits on Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council meetings. Can you give me an idea when those last meetings occurred?
Mr Chesworth : I think it was in around about April this year.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: How many times have those meetings occurred since 2014 when it was established in July?
Mr Chesworth : I will adjust my advice. The advisory board has met three times—on 25 July 2014, 2 October 2014 and 5 March 2015.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Specifically with the Tasmanian Economic Council, has there been any other meetings that the agencies have had internally?
Mr Chesworth : So that is for the advisory board. There is the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is correct.
Mr Chesworth : Its most recent meeting was on 13 March 2015. And the council has met four times—in December 2013, July 2014, November 2014 and, as I just stated, 13 March 2015.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are minutes available from those meetings?
Mr Chesworth : I am not sure. I will see what is available there.
Ms Beauchamp : Just looking at the website, I think communiquÃ©s may be put out after those meetings. And they are on the website.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: On the website now?
Ms Beauchamp : Yes.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I must admit I did look up the website and I found a fascinating array of 31 fact sheets including, I have to say, the Historic Shipwrecks Act of 1976. I am sure that is useful for companies somewhere along the line, but I would be interested, Ms Beauchamp, to know what time I could perhaps ask the question on—
Ms Beauchamp : I do not think we put up the communiquÃ© of the last meeting, so we will get that for you.
Mr Chesworth : We will chase it up for you. You mentioned there about the shipwrecks act. That is probably a good example of how the remit can grow more broadly than one expects when you go into these things. Wrecks are—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: An undersea cable would have to take that into account.
Mr Chesworth : Indeed. Wrecks are actually quite highly sought-after, particularly ex-naval wrecks, for diving tourism.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could that be one of the projects—a sunken Navy ship?
Mr Chesworth : I will get a confirmation on that.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. I would be very interested to know.
Senator LUDLAM: I was going to do some follow-up on the national radioactive waste site selection process that is underway, if those folks in the room are happy to do round two. I know you would have been disappointed if I had not! I would also, maybe at the outset, like to acknowledge that under this government we actually have a process rather than a unilateral 'point at a spot on a map and then try and smash it through' process. The process is not perfect but at least it gives us something to work with. So I am happy to be on the record in that regard. I forget which one of you it was and I cannot see all of your name tags. It might have been you, Mr Wilson, who acknowledged that the panel was meeting today. It is the third meeting? Okay. I am interested, firstly, in the process of shortlisting nominated sites for a national nuclear waste dump. The nominations process for shortlisting has closed, I understand. How many nominations did you get?
Mr B Wilson : At this point—
CHAIR: We have already had that question.
Senator LUDLAM: And the answer was?
CHAIR: The answer was that it is still part of a process and that they are not going to release that detail. I am only saying that because it has been asked before.
Senator LUDLAM: That is all right. We will move on. I do not want to duplicate things because time is short. The department website notes that there will be a 60-day notice period once the shortlisted sites are announced. How do you intend to inform the public about the shortlist?
Mr Sheldrick : Under the act there is a requirement to lodge a notice of that intention. So there will be a gazettal notice and presumably some press notice at the same time.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay, press notices bunged on the website. You are going to put it out there so that people can find the list?
Mr B Wilson : The minister is required to announce the nominations that he is considering moving forward with. We are shorthanding that into a shortlisting description. When those sites are released, there will be a gazettal notice and there will be a press notice. That will also be accompanied by a process of consultation with the shortlisted sites. As to the details of that process, we are still working through exactly how we plan to do it, but there is an up-front commitment that there will be consultation with those communities in that period.
Senator LUDLAM: I want to go to that directly. Do you intend to directly contact stakeholder groups to inform them of the comment period? I will give you one example of what has already happened. Reading about this in the press—and if my understanding of this is incorrect, please feel free to correct me—there was a site in Western Australia that was nominated by a mining company on some land that they hold some form of title to, without letting the registered native title group know that that existed, and that native title mob found out about it in the newspaper. That is not the government's fault; you are not in control of that process. Do you intend to inform people directly if land that they have an interest in has been shortlisted for a radioactive waste dump?
Mr B Wilson : Again—
CHAIR: We have covered this earlier today.
Senator Colbeck: And I would be cautious about speculation about sites that are listed in the media.
Senator LUDLAM: That is not what I am doing. I want to know whether you propose to—
Senator Colbeck: That is the characterisation that you have put on it.
Senator LUDLAM: No. Do you propose to inform groups in affected areas? That is the direct question; it is hypothetical.
Mr B Wilson : As I have indicated, we have not exactly nailed down the process by which we will do the consultations in the areas where the shortlisted sites are. But it would be fair to say that the government's commitment is to ensure that anyone with a direct interest in that site is aware of the shortlisting and consulted in the process. How that will occur, I cannot yet say.
CHAIR: And that is consistent with your earlier answer.
Senator LUDLAM: There are four state jurisdictions that currently have legislation precluding a national radioactive waste facility. Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory have some form of legislation that actually prevents a national site being established. Presuming you are not automatically ruling sites out of consideration if there is an existing legislative veto, how do you propose to handle sites that have been nominated effectively in contravention of state or territory law?
CHAIR: Earlier today, I asked if they could tell me where the sites have been identified, for the length and breadth of this country, because I am interested too. The department officers said that, at this stage, while they are going through this process, they were not prepared to identify any of the states or territories, where they getting are getting applications from.
Senator LUDLAM: I understand. That is not the question that I have just asked. Can I get an answer to my question? And I will absolutely go back to the transcript if this was addressed earlier. How do you propose to handle site nominations—you do not have to tell me where they are; I would like you to, but I presume you won't—in states or territories where there is a state or territory legislative ban?
Mr B Wilson : The act on which the low-level waste and intermediate storage facility is being pursued does have override provisions that technically allow a site to be established. Set against that is the minister's commitment not to impose a site on a community that is fundamentally against it. The interaction of any state laws in possible sites that might be nominated and are taken forward is something that we will have to deal with the state or the territory government about obviously in those instances. That would be a process of discussion. How that plays out and how that might be resolved, I cannot speculate on at this point.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I have a quick question on the tender process. I understand that there was an information session held here in Canberra on 15 May for possible tenderers to assist the department in building the facility, wherever it winds up being. Which companies attended that briefing and what follow-up communications have been held?
Mr Sheldrick : Just a correction on the way you put that: it is not a tender for companies to help build the facility. The tender was let to identify companies that will work with us through the next phase, which is the detailed site characterisation—so the project management around site characterisation, the development of the detailed business case and the safety case. Much of the information from that will flow through into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act approval processes and the ARPANS Act. The contract was not let around tendering for construction.
Senator LUDLAM: That it is an important distinction. Thank you very much. Who attended that briefing and what follow-up communications have been held since then?
Mr B Wilson : We would have to take that on notice. I think it was reasonably well attended. Of course, that briefing session is only part of the tender process, and we are obliged, I believe, to make the details of that session widely known on AusTender anyway, so what was discussed at that briefing session should be available on AusTender. I can certainly check that and take it on notice for you.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, if you could, and also just who the attendees were. I am presuming that is not a state secret either. My final question regards continuing levels of confusion, some of it at quite high levels, about the nature of the project. Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett asserted that the wastes were not radioactive. I think he subsequently amended that to claim that they were only low level. The Premier is not the only one guilty of mischaracterising what this facility will be for. Have the government or the department corrected that issue with the Premier? It is kind of important that people understand what it is that is in play.
Mr B Wilson : Not that I know of, no.
Senator LUDLAM: I think that would probably assist if you are trying to get consent on something that has been—
CHAIR: Are you going to verbal the officers now about what they should and should not be doing in their department or are you going to ask a question?
Senator LUDLAM: I think it is not to anybody's benefit to have people at the level of a Premier of a state mischaracterising it.
CHAIR: Are you going to ask a question?
Senator Colbeck: I do not think it is necessarily the responsibility of a department to tell a Premier of a state what to do.
Ms Beauchamp : Chair, we will take it on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: No wonder people are confused about this thing.
CHAIR: They are not confused.
Senator LUDLAM: Well, the Premier said it was not a radioactive waste dump. That seems like confusion to me.
CHAIR: Words are weapons in this business.
Senator Colbeck: That is an issue for the Premier, not an issue for this department.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you have any idea of the cost of the planned facility, separate to what is in ANSTO's budget at the moment?
CHAIR: That question was asked earlier as well.
Senator LUDLAM: Cost?
Ms Beauchamp : I think we agreed, Chair, that it was very speculative and depends on a range of things, so we are not in a position to even go there at this stage.
Senator LUDLAM: Just finally, on notice, can you explain to us the operations of the proposed community benefit fund—whatever you can provide for us. I have used up enough time. Given that the Commonwealth and the host jurisdiction are proposed to be exempt from facility use fees, please just give us the estimated amount of annual income or contribution to the proposed fund—at least orders of magnitude at this early stage for what we would be looking at.
Ms Beauchamp : I will take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Much appreciated.